Terrorism: the new Cold War

[Green Left Weekly, #649, November 16, 2005]

Terrorism has become a kind of new Cold War. During the post-World War II struggle of the US-led "free world" against the Soviet Union and its allies, everything was justified by the needs of the fight against "communism", Soviet "totalitarianism", Reagan's "evil empire", etc. Under these banners, the West carried out a permanent arms race (which included the massive deployment of nuclear weapons), sponsored and supported scores of atrocious Third World dictatorships, and witch-hunted their own citizens and attacked their democratic rights.

Today the "war on terror" fulfils the same function for the Western ruling classes as did the Cold War before it. And it is just as spurious. During the Cold War period the real threat to the mass of ordinary people around the world was not the Soviet bloc but Western imperialist capitalism which sucked the blood of the Third World and exploited the labour of the workers at home.

And today — by any rational yardstick — Osama bin Laden and his acolytes are really only a minor threat to our wellbeing. But our rulers and their media lackeys hype up the terrorist threat — to truly surreal levels — in order to justify anti-democratic legislation which is far harsher than anything seen in the West during the Cold War. The regime that Howard is trying to establish is not really aimed at stopping terrorism but rather at crushing the domestic opposition which the ruling class knows will inevitably be generated as they push forward with their anti-worker neo-liberal agenda.

If our rulers really wanted to stop terrorism, all they have to do is give it up. Because in truth they are badly addicted to it. Any honest system of accounting shows this with complete clarity. Let’s consider just a few telling examples very close to home.

In 1975 Indonesia carried out a brutal annexation of East Timor. In the ensuing 25-year occupation it has been estimated that about one-third of the population — over 200,000 people — died of disease, starvation, murder and torture. And throughout this period the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard governments — the entire Australian "political class" — gave direct and indirect support to the Suharto dictatorship. They helped train the regime's army killers. That is, the Australian ruling class engaged in intimate relations over a prolonged period with a terrorist regime whose crimes in East Timor dwarf anything Osama bin Laden or the Bali bombers have ever done.

And following the Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor the Howard government has been very concerned to have Australia resume its relationship with the bloodstained Indonesian military. This makes a complete farce of its supposed anti-terrorist cooperation with the Indonesian authorities after the Bali bombings. It is well-known that the Indonesian military has links with the various right-wing Islamic groups, finding them very useful in fomenting sectarian strife, attacking the progressive movement and generally diverting people from a clear struggle against their oppressors — Western imperialism and its local clients.

In the 1965 anti-communist holocaust in Indonesia, most of the actual killing was carried out by army-organised Islamic gangs. But this was clearly an example of "good" terrorism which Australian prime minister Harold Holt notoriously endorsed with his comment that "with 500,000 to one million communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it is safe to say a reorientation has taken place".

And then we might look at ASIO, the organisation which is supposed to be our shield in the war on terrorism. The one example of terrorism on Australian soil in the past 30 years is the 1978 Hilton bombing. Three people were killed and a further seven wounded as the compactor on a garbage collection truck set off a bomb which had been put in a rubbish bin outside Sydney's Hilton Hotel, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was being held. Tim Anderson and two of his Ananda Marga colleagues were framed for this act and were only cleared after a long struggle. Who did do it? The most likely culprit is ASIO which at that time was facing budget cuts and felt it needed a public demonstration of its "necessity". It was probably intended that the bomb be found before it exploded but ASIO's "experts" failed to factor in the garbage truck.

Set up by the Chiffley Labor government in 1949, ASIO was a creation of the Cold War. It has never defended the lives and liberties of ordinary people; in fact, it is one of main threats facing us. Howard wants to enhance its anti-democratic role. Rather, it should be abolished.

One final example of our rulers’ addiction to terrorism might be the Howard government's treatment of asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat. Rather than welcoming these desperate people fleeing war, oppression and misery, Howard and his gang cold-bloodedly used them to appeal to the most base racist and xenophobic strains in the Australian population. They set up a regime of incarceration for refugees which could only destroy their hope in the future and even their will to go on living. Without a doubt, this is a form of terrorism.

In truth, the biggest terrorists are the Howards, Bushes and Blairs of this world. They make the perpetrators of the Bali bombings and other recent terrorist acts look decidedly small-scale.

How can we defend ourselves against terrorism? Firstly, we have to fight against the big-time terrorists who run this country and the profits-before-everything-else capitalist system which sustains them. Secondly, we have to fight for a world of justice, equality and plenty, in which the very idea of terrorism would have no currency. Outside of these guidelines, any "war on terrorism" is reactionary and should be opposed.